Tricks and Treats

Blair smirked as the young men ran out of the fraternity house, leaning against Giles' side as he finished chanting. "You know, that stuff comes in really handy." He looked up, grinning. "It's juvenile but it's fun and very helpful in this case."

Giles snorted. "I do believe this is the first prank I've played in almost ten years." He laughed, hugging Blair tightly to him. "I do enjoy this sometimes, the freedom and the young-feeling I get from doing such things."

Jim cleared his throat. "What did you two just do?"

"We just showed them the paranormal does exist," Blair said, grinning at his sentinel. "Some of our illustrious frat brothers from the wonderful house in front of us seem to have went over to our student's house to throw blood on their artwork."

Giles snickered. "I do think that illusion was the best thing yet. Very scary without being harmful." He smiled at Jim, handing Blair over when he saw the thunderous look. "I didn't hurt him."

"I made him," Blair said to soothe Jim. "Totally my idea."

Jim glared at the men walking towards them. "Don't say that too loud, you've got company. We'll discuss this later, Chief."

Blair nodded, rolling his eyes as he turned to look at the frat brothers walking toward them. "Problems?" he asked when one of them tried to loom over him.

"What did you do to our house?" he hissed. "It's bad enough you freaks are here, but now you violate our sacred space?"

"We didn't do a thing," Blair said calmly, shrugging. He looked at Giles, who shook his head. "Oh, and the 'freak' comment, maybe you should reserve it until you've looked it up." He turned, walking toward his office. "Come on, Giles, I want to go talk to Devon. I think he's got a fascinating story to tell us."

"About Spike? I do believe he's probably gotten quite an earful." They turned and started to walk away from the frat house and Jim.

"Hey," the head frat brother called, grabbing Blair's arm. "Remove it. We don't need no screaming thing in our attic."

Blair looked at Giles. "Gee, screaming thing?"

"I only sent a visual illusion." Giles looked at them. "All I did was the greenish-blue thing that was floating down the hallways."

The frat brother nodded. "Which was pretty cool looking, admittedly, but now we have a screaming thing in the attic."

Blair shrugged. "Okay, we'll go look at it." He looked Giles. "You up for it?"

"I'm always ready for whatever may turn up." He looked at Jim. " Would you like to help us?"

"Not really," he said dryly. "Screaming things are something I don't deal with unless it's a person in trouble." He looked at the grinning and smirking frat brothers. "But I am going to talk to someone about the blood they splattered a certain loft with." Two of the brothers turned very pale. "Thank you for not making me figure out which ones of you it was," he said as he grabbed them.

Blair and Giles walked into the house, side by side, and stopped in the doorway. "Do you feel that?" Blair whispered. Giles nodded, drawing a symbol in the air. "Protection?"

"I think it's about to be needed," Giles said, then he suddenly grabbed Blair and pushed him down onto the floor as something that looked a lot like a koosh ball flew over their heads. "As I thought it was, a poltergeist." He looked at the frat brothers hanging around outside the door. "Who died up there?"

"Um, back in the seventies, there was an acid party and ... well let's just say that a lot of people didn't quite make it home. Only three of them died upstairs, but a few more died on the roadway." He looked at his watch. "Man, I didn't know it'd been that long."

"Anniversary?" Blair asked.

"Yup, in about six days, man. Wow, how'd you know?"

"Activity like this tends to pick up around anniversaries," Giles told him. "We'll go up and look at it tonight but it may be tomorrow before we can do anything."

"Hey, whatever, man." The frat brothers all backed away from them. "Later."

Giles frowned at Blair as they walked up the stairs together, until they reached the top and were out of sight of the young men trying to play a prank on them. "Do you think they were telling the truth?"

"No, but something's here. Even I can feel it." Blair hopped up the last two stairs, looking down the hallway. "It's clear."

"No it's not," Giles sighed, heading toward one room. "Do go turn on their tape and light show though." He pointed toward the attic where the screams were coming from. "I'll take care of the open portal that someone has." He tapped on the door and walked in, glaring at the young man standing in front of the small brazier. "What *are* you doing?"

"I'm just workin' something to protect the house."

"I cast that blue thing."

The young man looked up and grinned. "Cool, can you teach me that?"

"Only if you're not in it for the power." Giles knelt down beside him. "I can teach you many things, but not if you're going to use it to harm others."

"Dude, relax, I'm one of the good guys. My Uncle's a Watcher."

"Rupert Giles," he said, holding out his hand.

"So cool, I'm Tremaine's nephew. I'm here to study under Blair."

"As do I," Giles said. "Please close that so we can leave."

"Nah, I wanted to ward against the spirit we do actually have. Oh, and to do a sort of warding over your students. That was cruel, what they did."

"I was going to cast an avoidance later, we'll work it together." The young man smiled and stood up, blowing out his candles and dropping something onto the brazier to make it stop smoking. "Very nicely done," Giles told him. "Just don't tell your Uncle you're working beside me, he'd have a fit."

"Oh, the old man actually expected I'd see you. He told me to bitch at you over Buffy joining the Initiative."

Giles snorted, opening the door. "I hope they don't seriously think that was my idea. I was thoroughly against it when she first became involved and I argued daily with her, whenever I saw her at least, after she joined the reincarnation of the Initiative." They met Blair at the top of the stairs. "Done?"

"Very muchly so," Blair said, waving a tape in the air. "Who's this?"

"This young man is a future Watcher, we're going to go talk and possibly cast together." He let the young man lead them down the stairs. "I'll see you in the morning for classes," he called back to his Chair.

"Of course you will," Blair called back. "You can have an absence if you need it." He tapped the tape against his leg a few times then walked after them, heading out of the house and over to the police car where Jim was arresting two people. "Having fun?" he asked.

"Yes, I am," Jim said sourly. "These two admitted that they broke into the boy's loft to spray blood around, and have graciously decided to narc on the rest of their friends." He glared at the frat boys. "Just when I had a nice, quiet evening of reading planned."

Blair patted his arm. "Don't worry, I'm sure the arresting officers can do it." He grinned at the two patrolmen. "Right guys?" He grinned and started across campus toward his office.

"Not hardly," the older one said, scratching his bald, dark head. "I don't do paperwork, Junior does it."

"Aw, man," the young cop said, giving his partner a begging look. "Why do I get all the paperwork?"

Jim snorted and patted the young cop's shoulder. "Because you're newer, it's a time honored tradition." The young cop gave him a pathetic look. "You'll gain rank and have to do less of the work. Someday." He shook his head and walked away, heading after Blair.


Oz looked through his binoculars, growling at what he saw through the sheer drapes. "He's got her tied to a chair," he reported to Xander and Willow.

Xander shook his head. "He's lecturing her about how she's supposed to be normal and live up to his ideals." He looked at Willow through the little window into the truck's bed. "Ready?"

"Got the spells ready." She picked up her cellphone, dialing her house. "Tara? Start the distraction." She hung up and chanted slowly, picking up in speed as she shifted back and forth.

Oz grunted as the ropes started to untie themselves and wrap around the man that had Buffy. "Done. Go."

Xander hopped out of the truck, jogging up to the door. He ran into the first obstacle when he found the door locked but he solved it by kicking it in, on the fourth try. He walked calmly into the house, tugging on Buffy's arm to get her to come with him. Oz watched it all, frowning. "Use the guide stuff," he called out the open window. He could see Xander talking to her, gently leading her out of the house and to the truck, letting her into the back where Willow was sitting. After a few moments, he was back around in the driver's seat. "Done?" Oz asked. Xander nodded as he started the truck. "What did you say to him?"

"Only that he wasn't a guide, because I knew guides and he was nothing like mine." He grinned, pulling out into the street. "He was just shocked." He grunted at the poke to his side. "Thanks. Will, did you leave something there?"

"Yup, it was part of the distraction." She checked her watch. "It should be starting about now."

Xander stopped the truck and they all looked in the mirrors as purple smoke started to flow out the open door. "Cool. Is it harmful?"

"No, just annoying. And someone will call somebody but we've already told the local fire department that he's working on a chemistry experiment and it's supposed to smoke a lot. They said they'd be careful about answering it with full support at first."

A single fire engine pulled up outside his house and two firemen got out, running inside the smoking house. The group stayed to watch as they came back out five minutes later, one of the firemen yelling at the man that had been holding the Slayer hostage. Xander started to drive again, heading to Giles' house.


Giles looked at his former protegee and frowned at her still form. "Why does this happen to me? Every Sentinel I've ever dealt with goes comatose on me." He sighed in frustration, glaring at the still, blonde form. "Buffy, it is more than time for you to awaken and rejoin the rest of us."

She snuffled, rolling onto her side. "Giles?" she murmured. She blinked and looked up at him. "What's wrong?" she asked as she sat up.

"The third time's the hardest," Oz said, patting Giles on the shoulder. "Trust me on this. Oh, and talk a lot." He walked out to where Jim was waiting on them. "Hi," he said, sitting down beside his own sentinel, touching his arm to bring him back from the semi-zone he was using to think quickly. "She's fine again."

Jim shook his head. "That was irresponsible," he said harshly.

"We warned them about the smoke beforehand," Willow told him. "Just so that it wouldn't take the fire department away from someone who needed them."

"We had to get her away from them," Xander said, looking up. "He was mentally torturing her, Jim. Trying to remake her in his image. Telling her that all of her life was a lie that she had made up to irritate him." The older sentinel shook his head. "He did, I was listening for a good half hour before I went in to get her."

"Which means that you could be charged with breaking and entering."

"And he can be gotten on kidnapping," Oz said quietly. "Xander rescued her, that's a lot different than breaking and entering." He looked over at Willow. "You might want to go help Giles, he seemed a little flustered." He waited until she was gone to get up and stand in front of his teacher's face. "Jim, get over it. We did what was necessary. The same as you would have but without the police backup since we're not sure what sort of firepower the Initiative could send her way." He gave Jim a level stare. "What would you have done?"

"I would have done the same thing," Jim sighed, scrubbing his face with his hands. "Let me handle it next time, boys, it'll save problems."

"The badge may have caused more," Xander reminded him. "The Initiative had local cops set up a roadblock this summer to catch me. Using a lot of cops." Jim groaned. "They're Feds and they're using the 'I can do that' approach to coming after it's members and the ones they want."

Jim shook his head. "Next time, at least tell me." Oz and Xander nodded. "Thank you." He looked out the window. "How do I explain this if he makes a report?"

"Then you look at the arresting officer and tell them that the people who did it were rescuing someone that he was holding hostage." Xander shrugged at the dirty looks he was getting. "What?"

"Then there'll be an investigation," Oz reminded him. "Tell Blair to talk to Simon and explain it to him."

"Oh, he'll love that," Xander said dryly. "Darryl said he used to have Blair make up all his excuses for him." He grinned up at Jim. "Have Blair tell Simon what happened and then Simon can repeat it."

Jim snickered, turning his head to the side to try and hide the smile. "I'll do that," he said finally. He looked toward the bedroom as Buffy, Giles, and Willow walked out together. "I'm going to go check and make sure that they haven't put anything out on her. Stay here, Buffy."

"I do believe she could use some of Blair's attention," Giles said formally. "I can't deal with how she keeps going under."

Willow frowned up at him then gave Jim a bland look. "She's zoning on dust particles. She's got sight and hearing."

"Both of which would be excellent tactically," Xander pointed out. Buffy grinned at him. "So we need to get you a guide who can fight with you."

Willow glared at him. "Tara and I can do that," she pointed out.

"Will," Buffy said quietly. "I don't want you caught in the middle if they come for me." She touched the younger girl's arm. "Really."

Oz looked at Xander. "Didn't you say something remotely similar?"

Xander nodded, standing up and handing Oz his jacket. "A few times actually. Have fun with your new Guide, Buffy." He looked at Jim. "Want a ride back to the school?"

"No thanks, I drove. You're supposed to be in class though."

"Nope, I'm supposed to be photographing interesting life." Xander grinned. "My photography class is a mostly outside one." He waved at the door. "Come on, I'll drop you off, Oz." His guide followed him out of the room.

Jim looked at Giles. "Just keep her in here until we know if she's got any warrants for her arrest." He turned and walked out of the apartment too, muttering about the heavy-handedness of the government.

Giles leaned against the doorframe, looking at his charge. "Buffy, do go rest for a bit. I'll fix us some lunch, then you and Willow can work together for a bit." He headed for his kitchen, ignoring the quiet words Willow was saying.

"What did you do to Xander this summer?" Willow hissed. "Besides hurt him more?"


Blair smiled sweetly as he walked into Simon's office, handing over the cup of good coffee and the bag he carried. "Morning, Simon." His boss sighed, dropping his pen. "What?" Blair asked, mock-pouting as he sat down. "I'm hurt."

"No, you're here to ask a favor and I know it has something to do with either blowing up the city or something to do with one of your sentinels." He checked the door and found Jim there. "Blowing up the city?"

"Nope," Blair said, getting comfortable in the chair. "One of the sentinels. Actually Buffy Summers." Simon glared at him. "Ah, I see you heard from the boys this summer?"

"Once or twice," Simon said dryly. "What's she doing in my city?" He took a drink of the coffee he had been given.

"The Initiative dosed her too," Jim said as he sat down. Simon spat the coffee across his desk, making Blair frown as he wiped the few spots off his shirt. "She's got two active senses."

"Oh, but that's not the good part," Blair said, frowning at the window but waving. "In a minute guys," he called. He turned back to Simon. "You heard about the purple smoke incident?" Simon nodded, putting down the cup and gripping the desk. "That was her kidnapper. It was Xander and Oz who went to get her and one of their witchly friends that made the purple smoke. Which they were nice enough to tell the fire department about beforehand," he finished quickly.

"So, what you're saying is that Xander broke into that house to rescue the girl that almost killed him this summer," Simon said calmly.

Jim nodded, shifting a little closer to Blair. "He did it out of duty once he found out she had been dosed too."

Simon picked up his phone and threw it. "Damn it!" He stood up. "Don't you two ever come to me with the easy problems?"

"There's not a real problem unless the guy that had her reports the break-in," Blair said calmly. "Giles didn't trust us to go retrieve her so he went to the boys. Personally, I bet they did an excellent job of it."

"He still has some smoke drifting around his house," Jim said with a small snort. Blair patted his leg. "Simon, they did what they had to do. She was a friend. We've only got problems if the Feds are coming back for her."

"Oh, then you've got problems. Not only have they come for her, but she's listed as a wanted fugitive." He sat on the edge of his desk. "I can't stop them, guys, this is *way* out of my league."

Jim nodded slowly. "I can have them stopped, that's not a problem, I just need a few days."

"If she's arrested, we'll have Feds here in a few minutes," Blair reminded them.

"Where is she," Simon asked tiredly.

"Giles'," Jim said as he stood up. "Give me some time to arrange a Fed block." He nodded at Blair. "Staying?"

"Yeah, I'll stay here while you go do that. It's safer and I may need to be here in case she's brought in." Jim nodded, leaving them alone. "So, Simon," Blair said cheerfully, "how's Darryl?"

Simon stood up, walking around to sit behind his desk. "He's fine. Go talk to the detectives outside, they're looking anxious." He looked up. "I hate when you two do this to me."

"Yeah, I'm not fond of doing this myself." Blair smiled and stood up. "We're sorry to dump this on you, Simon, but you're the only one we can trust." He walked out.

"Wonder if I can fix that," Simon muttered, picking up a napkin to blot the coffee up from his paperwork.


Jim knocked on Giles' apartment door, walking in with the two agents behind him when it was opened. "She ready?" he asked quietly.

"She and Willow both. Though Tara was most peeved that she couldn't go." Giles looked toward his stairs. "Girls?"

Willow walked down, smiling at him. "We'll be fine," she said, patting his arm. "Are these the protective guys?" she asked Jim, who nodded. "Okay. Buffy, it's safe." When she didn't get an answer, she groaned and headed back up the stairs, coming back with her guideling in tow after a few minutes. "Sorry, we had a small zone."

The first Fed smiled at Willow. "You handle that well."

"I had some practice," Willow said dryly. "Tara, we're leaving," she called. Her girlfriend walked out of the kitchen, coming over to give her a long hug and a small kiss. "I'll call tonight if I can," she promised quietly in her girlfriend's ear. "We're fine, I'll be protected by Buffy."

Tara nodded and stepped back. "Buffy, you'd better protect Willow," she said as forcefully as she could manage. Buffy went stiff, looking at her. "You don't want to mess with me on this one."

Buffy nodded. "I will, Tara. I won't let her be hurt." She looked back at the Feds. "They're both my guides, why can't she come?"

"Because it's safer to just have the two of you," the first Fed said with a small smile. "Don't worry, you'll be back in a few days." He held out a hand for the bags. "Come, it's time."

Buffy spun and hugged Giles. "I'm sorry," she said quietly, looking up into his eyes. "Really sorry, for all of it." She turned, walking calmly behind Willow's slumped form.

Jim looked at the other Fed, the one that had tried to get Blair to help him fix the people that the Initiative had 'fixed'. "Satisfied?"

"Very. We just need to debrief her. The warrants have been removed from the system. As soon as we know who to get, we'll cut off their access and power."

Tara cleared her throat. "There's a small group that's working against the Initiative from the inside. It's led by Riley Finn. You might find him with his girlfriend at a certain campground. Buffy knows where."

"As do we," he said with a small smile, "but we didn't know about him. Thank you, ma'am." He nodded at Jim and left.

Jim closed the door, looking at Tara. "Who?"

"He's a former squadron leader of the Initiative, he left to help Buffy when he saw how bad they really were." She sat on the edge of the couch. "He was almost court-marshaled for it. He's leading the resistance from the inside." She looked up at Giles. "He's the one that got Xander the raw serum."

Giles shuddered. "I do think we've not seen the last of the fallout from that yet."

Jim sighed and shook his head. "No, we haven't, and Blair's itching to get his hands on Xander to test him again." He checked his watch. "I'm supposed to be picking him up to go for the tests right now." He walked out.

Giles sat down next to Tara, patting her hand. "I wouldn't worry, they've always been upfront about wanting to stop the Initiative and their ways."

"I'm not worried about them hurting Willow," she said with a small smile, "I'm worried about Willow hurting them for something." She stood up. "I'm making pasta, would you like some?"

"Please," he said with a small smile. "There's some homemade sauce in the refrigerator, in the glass container." Tara nodded, heading back into the kitchen.


Blair tossed his pen at Xander in disgust. "How did you two manage to change your levers after they were set? I can't get that imagery to change once it's set, Jim's stuck with dials forever."

"It was necessary," Xander explained, giving him a small, hurt, pathetic look. "The levers weren't sensitive enough. I have a remote now instead." Blair groaned and put his head down on the table. "I'm sorry," he said, leaning back in his chair. "I thought Oz had told you. He put in an equalizer, like on his cd player, and a remote so I wouldn't fool with the little levers."

Blair looked up. "You have an equalizer now?" Xander nodded. "With a remote?" That got another nod and a small grin. Blair sat up. "What runs it?"

"Oz said the batteries were my will to control them." Xander straightened up. "What I used to have was great but it didn't have any in between settings. I needed to be able to fine tune it."

"So that's why your tests are so much better now," he said, picking up the day's paperwork and test results. He flipped through a few. "Your hearing's more sensitive but it still thins out instead of going down below heartbeat level. Your sense of smell is not that well developed but that may be training on your part. Your sense of taste still runs toward the sweet." He looked and grinned. "Not much change there, huh?" He went back to his paperwork, pulling one last one out. "The only real change, besides depth of range, is your sight."

"It's like normal sight is at the top of my range. I can do finer detail now."

"Basically. But not down to the micron level. You can go down to the 'speck' level and tell me exactly what it is but not any lower. Is this training?" Blair looked up. "Only you'd know now."

Xander nodded. "I haven't really been working with any of them, besides to even them back out. What used to be five is now at just under two. And I usually don't work with my sight that way. Though I may get a chance soon. Oz wants me to start doing beadwork."

Blair chuckled. "That sounds like something I would recommend." He put down the papers, rearranging them until they were neat. "I shouldn't worry about you, you and Oz are doing good again, but I do and I am. This is a big change for you."

"No, big change was his starting to date and my ending up cuddled with them one night," Xander corrected. "It worried me lots this summer when it happened."

"And now?" Blair asked gently.

"Now, we've agreed that it's a comfort thing and cuddles are good." Xander tipped his head off to the side. "It's on the same level as mine and Oz's hugs. Non-sexual and going to stay there."

"So, Oz never got over it?"

"No, he got over it, but it's still not sexual between us. He told me how you sent him to the hospital the day you met him." Blair winced. "Yeah, it was that. But he's okay with the concept again, he's much more relaxed around me and my naked ways." He grinned. "We're okay, Blair, really."

Blair nodded. "So I can see. What about the personal stuff you guys were talking about the other night in the elevator."

"It's not happened since then. Maybe he's got it straightened out but I'm going to doubt it for a while longer. He's still trying to figure things out. It's like this, I had a much easier transition, all I had to was accept that I had senses. Oz had to suddenly become some strange parent-like person who I had to depend on for my life. He's got most of the responsibility in our relationship. I have responsibilities to him, and to you, but not the way he does. I don't have to make sure he eats or goes to class. I don't have to do anything more than be protective of him. Which I do very well by the way." Xander leaned back in his chair, crossing his feet under the table, accidentally running into Blair's leg. "Sorry."

"Not a big thing," Blair said quietly. "What about you? What responsibilities do you have to yourself?"

"I have lots of them to myself, but not as many as some people. I have to try and keep Oz from worrying about my eating and going to class by showing some maturity and not getting lost. I have to take responsibility for my actions and decisions, like today when I'm skipping a quiz."

"You'll have an excuse."

"Doctor Roberts hates you," Xander reminded him. "She won't accept it, even if the President of the US signed it."

Blair snorted. "Ah, yes, our lovely Doctor Roberts. May she rot." He grimaced. "She remembers me from when I was a student and she still hates that I was smarter than her and I corrected her often in class." He shrugged at the chuckle. "I had to, she was screwing the kids up royally." He tapped the top of the papers. "Why aren't you looking for a relationship?"

"I'd like one, but I think I'd have to find someone to balance me. Someone who understands, someone who might be able to help Oz if he needed it or when he wasn't there. There aren't too many people that fit that criteria."

"Which is why Darryl was great?"

"No, Darryl was great because he was nice and exactly what I needed. He was steady and caring and cuddly. I still need that, but I need someone I can go have fun with sometimes and someone who likes my art."

"Which you're still not working on," Blair reminded him.

"I tried to sketch yesterday," Xander said, reaching behind him to pull a folder paper out of his pocket. "This is what came out." He handed it over, grimacing at the shocked look. "See, not near my usual thing. And that one painting was *scary*, Blair. All shadows and things."

Blair looked up from the picture of Oz's spirit guide mid-morph into Sascha, mouth working but no sound coming out.

"I don't know why it came out as that, it just did."

"Okay," Blair said slowly, putting the sketch aside. "We can deal with that. I could put you back under hypnosis and mildly block it, or you could go home and force yourself to work through the block. I'll leave that up to you."

"It's not a real block, it's more like there's too much and I can't get one image past all the scary ones."

"So paint the scary ones and put them aside to deal with later. It's like purging them." He tapped the table a few times then gathered up his papers. "I think we've got enough done for now. Why don't you go home and work on getting past the dam." He stood up, looking down at his student. "What's wrong?"

"I want to know why you started smelling scared when you looked at the drawing," Xander said, looking up at him. "Is there something you wanted to not let us know about her?"

"No." He shook his head. "Xander, that's a definite 'don't worry about it' situation so don't." Blair walked out of the room, holding the door open. "Come on, Xander, I'll drive you home."

Xander picked up his sketch and followed him out of the room, calmly examining what he knew.


Oz groaned as he woke up, looking at the body he was snuggled on top of. "Thought you had your own room," he said, pushing himself off the warm chest.

"Is my room," Xander mumbled, rolling over and clutching him. "Shh, no early classes."

Oz looked around in confusion and figured out that he was, indeed, in Xander's room. He looked down at the head on his chest. "How did I get in here?" When he didn't get an answer, he brushed over the back of the younger man's neck. "Still sleeping?"

"Would if you'd shut up." Xander pushed himself up to look at his roommate. "What?"

"How did I get in here?" Oz pulled him back down to hold him. "Didn't mean to wake you up."

"You did, you were snuggly and you let go." Xander fluffed his guide a little before settling on him. "You followed me in when I was done painting last night. I climbed into bed and there you were when I pulled up the blankets." He grunted, shifting his head some to move his hair around. "Need to get my hair cut."

"Yeah, you should," Oz said, touching it. "It's gotten really long for how you've been wearing it." He looked at the clock then groaned. "Is it Saturday?"

"Should be."

"Then I have a class."

"Told you that was a bad idea."

"Oh, it was, but I needed the credit." Oz slid out from under the still body, stooping over to kiss the back of Xander's head. "I'm sorry I crowded in on you."

"We'll discuss it later," Xander mumbled, covering his head with the pillow. "Go have fun at your food class."

Oz walked out of the curtained off room, heading for his own and the bathroom. He ran into their usual/unofficial roommate, sighing when he saw the mess Devon had made in his room. "Dev, who threw my last pair of clean clothes on the floor?"

The young vampire walked out of the bathroom, looking at him. "You did, right before you went to crawl in with paint boy." He walked around his guitarist, groaning at the pile of clothes. "I don't have any either."

"We could get a washer," Xander called. "They're not that expensive and we have a hook-up."

"Some of us aren't getting money this semester," Oz called back. "Next term."

"Whatever," Devon said. "I'll go ferry my cute butt to the laundromat tonight if you want." Oz shook his head. "No?"

"Nope, I have a date tonight so I need to get some before then." Oz picked up his clean clothes, smelling them. "They smell rotten." He tossed them back down, heading over to his closet to look in it. "Hate wearing these," he sighed as he pulled out a pair of jeans and a dark blue t-shirt. He headed for the bathroom. "Did you leave any hot water?"

"A little," Devon admitted with a grin. "Gotta be warmer, dude."

"Obviously," Xander said as he stumbled over. "You can borrow one of my t-shirts, I still have a few big ones left." He looked at the jeans. "Aren't those the ones that you played in? The ones that you only wore to get Devon women?" Oz nodded, closing the door on the bathroom behind him. "Huh, very uncomfy." He looked at Devon, squinting at him. "We'll go do laundry tonight but he can do a load today. Okay?"

"Hey, coolness." Devon pulled Xander over, kissing him. "Quit squintin', you'll ruin your eyes."

"May have happened," Xander agreed, laying down on Oz's bed. "I can't sleep in there, it smells like him and I'm having bad dreams." The vampire tucked him in, earning a grin. "Thanks, Dev."

"Hey, anytime, you know that." Devon walked towards the one open window, pulling the shade down from beside it. "Okay, we're all set for the day," he called as he headed for the kitchen and his bags of blood in the fridge. "Want me to fix breakfast?"

"No," Xander called. "I'm not hungry." He flipped over, burying his head under the covers. "Night."

"Night," Oz said as he came out of the bathroom, his jeans still undone so he could breathe for a while longer. He stopped to look at the lump on his bed, considering it. "We switching sides?" he asked lightly.

"Your smell was giving me dreams," Xander groaned, rolling over. "Your room doesn't smell so much like you so I'm hiding from them over here." He looked over Oz's outfit. "I'd go steal one of my shirts before you get accused of selling it." He licked his lips then quickly rolled over to hide his other reaction. "Have fun at class. Bring me back something from whatever country you're studying today if it's good."

"Will," Oz told him, patting the younger man's leg as he walked past him. He headed into Xander's room, opening his closet to look inside, and pulled out the roomiest t-shirt he could find to pull on over his jeans. He sighed as he slipped it on, walking out to the living room to put on his shoes once he was comfortable. He stopped as he saw the pile of dirt on the floor, looking around. "Dev?" he called, his voice having just the lightest hint of tremble in it.

The vampire looked out of the bathroom. "What?"

"Just wondering," Oz said, looking down at the floor.

Devon walked over, looking down at it too. "Wasn't me, man, don't worry." He patted his best friend on the shoulder. "Have fun at class. Burn something foreign for me."

"Will," Oz said as he grabbed his keys. He stopped in front of the elevator, grunting as he did up his jeans. "Damn, tighter," he moaned, making Devon snicker. "Sure, laugh all you want, you died at a good weight and look for you." He pushed the button for the elevator, getting on once it rattled up. "Later."

"Bye," Xander called from Oz's room.

"Later," Devon said. He waited until Oz was gone to pull the camera out from behind the couch, going over to where Xander was sleeping. He grabbed the covers, tossing them aside, and took a quick picture. "Ha!" he crowed.

"Dead," Xander warned, sitting up, holding a hand out. "Mine, give it back."

"I will," Devon said. "I just wanted to have a picture of you for when we go on the road next time."

"I'll probably be there again," Xander said dryly. "Give me the camera." It was handed to him. "I'd expose the film but half of my project's on here." He slid out of the bed, heading for his room and his clothes. "I'm going to the dark room at the college, you'll be okay on your own?" Devon nodded with a patient look on his face. "Okay, I'll let you have that picture if you want, but only if you're good."

"I'll be good," Devon told him, smirking as Xander walked out in a tight pair of jeans, one that he had bought over a year ago to work as a bouncer in. "Whoa, gonna ruin them?"

"It's a thought. Then I wouldn't feel bad about wearing them."

"Admit it," Devon said as he strolled over, "you enjoy flaunting yourself like that."

"Definitely," Xander said with a small grin. "Be good." He blew a kiss. "What was Oz looking at?"

"Small pile of dirt I didn't get swept up."

"Ah, okay. Don't do that to him, Dev. Just don't. He's still worried about Buffy staking you." He headed for the elevator, grabbing his wallet and keys. "I've got Oz's pager on me since he left it and I'm going to have to stop at the art store to get more paper." He walked back over, picking up his checkbook. "Thankfully, my check will be in Monday." He walked onto the elevator, heading out into his day too.

"Sure, just leave me here. We never go do fun things at night anymore." Devon sat down on the couch, turning on cartoons. "Hey, Power Rangers."


Xander looked up as he was joined in the dark room, nodding at his Chair. "Hey, John. Come look at these." He pointed at the two hanging pictures.

John walked over, his braid swinging gently in time with his stride. "Well, they're interesting," he said, looking at the first one. "How did you get him to be that transparent?"

"Don't ask," Xander said. "It's a long story and a bad one."

"Ah." John reached over, patting his advisee's shoulder, turning it into a rub when he felt the tension. "I think it's a great effect. What's the title of your project?"

"The Truth About People. I'm thinking how some are real deep and some are kinda shallow, but sometimes we're both." He pointed at the second picture, one of Blair, that was double exposed to show him both ways. The overlaying picture was very solid but the one beside and behind it was very light and almost see through. "I think that fits him real well but I'm having doubts."

"I like it," John said, his hand falling to Xander's back. "Did you get the table?"

"Yup," Xander said, shooting him a grin. "And I use it a lot too, me and one of my roommates. He's interested in photography, he's in the night class."

"Ah, the practicality of similar interests." John looked at the pictures waiting to be hung up, looking back at Xander after seeing the one of him nude on a bed. "He borrowed your camera?"

"He snuck in and got me this morning while I was trying to sleep." Xander picked it up, hanging it up on the line with the others. "I told him if he was good he could have it." He picked up the next one, doing the same thing. "I'm so glad that the photography teacher likes me so much." He turned to find John watching him. "What's wrong? Am I doing it wrong?"

"No, not at all." John looked up at the other pictures. "Flowers?"

"He wanted us to take them. They're due Monday. Our first project's due in a few classes." He picked up the last picture, hanging it up, then checked his trays to make sure nothing else was in it. He quickly took the last picture through the developing system, reaching for the light switch when he was done a few minutes later. "There, all done for the day. Now I can go lounge." He looked over his shoulder at the quiet older man. "Are you sure nothing's wrong?"

"Yeah, I'm sure." John walked closer, looking at all the pictures that had been hung. "You have a great talent, Xander, and I'm very proud of you." He rubbed the young man's back again. "Very proud of you. Never let anyone tell you what to create."

"Oh, I don't. Just ask the figure's teacher. She had a rotten time with me doing non-gendered nudes." He smiled. "Some of my best work was non-gendered. Very non-specific but very good."

"I saw," John said with a smile in return. "You're one of the reasons I came here. I figured that if Rainier could find people like you and let you work how you wanted, they'd accept me."

"They aren't?"

"The gallery won't show my work, it's too 'inflammatory'," he did the finger quotes.

"That sucks. You'd think that it wouldn't matter as long as it wasn't children doing each other or adults." Xander considered his other pictures, the ones he had done of Oz nude so he could work on some more figure drawings in a new way. "What medium do you usually work in?"

"I paint, but I do pictures mostly. Admittedly, some of my work can make people uncomfortable. Some of it has to do with alternative lifestyles, even for us, but it's not that graphic. I wasn't going to show anything that controversial, but I can see where some people might get offended by it." He looked up at the pictures again. "I've heard you're a great painter, but it looks like you may be multi-media."

"I'm trying it out," Xander said, looking down. "I like painting, I really do, but I'm not too sure about this stuff. I like the instant capture aspect, but I think I'd like to paint them afterwards."

"Ah, but if you do it right," John said, grabbing him and making him look at the pictures hanging in front of them, "you could put them together. Or leave some pictures and some as paintings. You can mix and match your media and no one would say anything except 'it's good that you can switch so easily'." John wrapped his arms around Xander's arms where they lay around his stomach. "And if you like working from pictures then you can get some outrageous works done and no one would yell for having too odd of an imagination. I wish I could paint as well as I've seen some of your work done, but I'm not a painter."

Xander wiggled free. "Um, John? Was that a pass?"

"No," he said with a small smile. "I don't make passes at men a decade or so younger than me, Xander. That was honest appreciation of your work. I'm just a touchy guy." He pointed to the one of Xander nude. "Are you going to paint that one?" Xander shrugged. "You could, and then change it so it wasn't you. Maybe change the characteristics. Or you could pose someone else and paint from that picture. If you're worried about capturing the *exact* look, painting from a picture is very doable. Just like painting from a sketch is."

"I paint a lot of stuff that just comes. Sort of free-form fantasy right now." Xander looked up at the pictures. "You think I could do that?"

"Only you would know, Xander. Never let anyone tell you otherwise. No one knows what's in your heart." He touched the younger man's chest lightly then backed up. "I'm going to go back to my office and sulk. Have a nice day and good luck with the experiment."

"John, would you like to see some of my other work?" Xander asked quietly. "My apartment's full of it right now. Well, the wall murals are another student's who used to live there, but I have a loft full of paintings at the moment and only one roommate of the three."

"I'd like that, Xander. When?"

"I'll come by your office before I leave?"

"Sure. If not today then we'll do it this week?"

"Hey, whenever you have time. I like to show off my work but I hate to show it, I really hate to part with it."

"Ah, a true idealist. Don't worry, you never have to sell unless you want. The gallery's policy was fixed as soon as I got here this summer." He turned and walked out of the dark room. "Have fun."

"Oh, lots," Xander called, smiling as he turned back to his work with a new enthusiasm.


Oz walked into the loft to find a strange, blond man sitting on their couch staring up at Xander's paintings. "Hey," he said, walking toward his room. "You are?"

"John, Xander's chair and new advisor." He held out a hand, watching Oz as he shook it. "You have a very talented roommate. Two of them I'd guess." He pointed at the band equipment set up against the living room section's wall.

"Both Dev and I play in a band," Oz said, heading for his room. "Where's Xander?"

"In his room trying to find something." John got up, wandering toward a wall of work done mostly in figures. "Xander, your roommate's back," he called.

"I heard. Oz, where's my silver figures?" He popped his head out to look at his roommate. "Did you put it somewhere?"

"It's still in the cage," he said, pointing. "Lots of stuff still is." Oz pulled his curtain closed. "I'm going to do a load of laundry. Want to throw something in?"

"Nah, Dev and I were going to go tonight." Xander jogged across the former industrial space to where Oz had his werewolf cage. He opened the door, falling to his knees to look through the paintings in there. "Ah ha," he said, tossing a few of them behind him. "Watch out, art on the floor," he called as he dug.

"Okay," Oz called back. He looked out from his curtain, giving the littered floor a dirty look. "You're putting the rest back up?"

"Nope, just showing John. I'll put them back later." Xander stood up with one last one in his hands, bending down to gather the others and carrying them out to the table. "Here we go, John. Knew I had them somewhere."

The older man walked over, looking through the work shown for his approval. "You've gotten better," he announced. "But I still like both styles." He pointed at one figure that was almost distorted. "What's wrong with it?"

"Um, water. We got sprayed with blood about a week or so ago. Oz had to help me clean but I accidentally got a few too wet." He looked at the painting in question. "It was a really nice one but I think I'm going to paint over it."

"No. Keep it. It's still a valid piece of art. People who paint like this are from a different school but they still get shows." He picked up a larger canvas with silver figures entwined on it. "I love this one." He put it back down. "Just the way they're touching tells me that they care about each other. The way the left figure's hand is in the other's hair, the way he's clutching him, tells me the depth of their feeling for each other and how much they want it to last." He looked at his student. "Did you have models?"

"Not real ones," Xander admitted with a small blush. "I had a picture in my mind but I didn't want to paint the actual people." He looked over his shoulder. "Hey, Oz, he likes my silver ones too."

Oz backed out of his room dragging a laundry bag. "Cool. I still think you should show that." He walked over to look down at the stuff on the table. "You didn't show him the one that Dev calls Bossie?" Xander shook his head. "I think you should. I think he'd enjoy it." He picked up the string to his bag again, heading for the elevator. "Nice to meet you, please don't bruise his ego or inflate it too high, I have to live with him," he said as he coaxed his dirty clothes over to the elevator and onto it. "Later."

"Don't fall in. Those jeans can't shrink anymore," Xander called after him. He looked at his advisor with a small grin. "It's the last pair he had and he was hiding them from himself." He walked into the kitchen, pulling one off the rack that was beside the stove. "Here, this is the one he was talking about." He handed it over carefully. "Still wet."

John handled it by the edges of the board the canvas was stretched around. "I like this," he said, laying it down on the table to look at closer. "I really like this." He glanced up. "How did you paint this?"

"It was hiding behind some scary mind-stuff that I've been painting out. I go into these little painting trances and when I come out I have a lot of stuff done," he explained, "but I'm never sure where it comes from."

John picked up the painting to look at it in a different light, hanging it on an exposed nail on the wall eventually. He backed away to stare at the picture of a man held by his ankle by a hand, his mouth open to call, but his eyes smiling. "I should show you some of mine. It's somewhat like this, only in pictures." He looked at his student. "Are you into that life?"

"Nope, it just comes to me. If you're ever in a club called The Flame, the murals on the walls are mine. Blair has pictures of them up on his walls because they seem to change as you walk around them." Xander stepped up to look at the painting. "For some reason, sometimes they almost seem to live. This one, when you're away from it, it looks like pain, but when you get closer, you see joy and longing." He shrugged, shaking himself. "I'd better let that go dry." He took the painting down, heading back to the drying rack to put it up. "Want a water or something? We're not real food rich until I get my disbursement check on Monday."

"No, thanks, Xander." John watched him fuss with his paintings. "You have a great gift, Xander, never abuse it." He smiled as the young man looked up in shock. "It's in your folder, how Mary was asked to admit you by Blair Sandburg. As far as I'm concerned, whatever gift you have is a good one for you to have, but never abuse it."

"I don't," Xander said quietly, leaning on the bar separating the kitchen from the rest of the loft. "It never really comes into my artwork. It's not an empathy sort of gift, it's a different one."

"I don't need to know, just never abuse it. However you do that to your paintings is special. Let it come when it will." He shot him another grin. "Stop by my office this week sometime and I'll show you what I was going to show." He turned and headed for the elevator. "See you later."

"Bye," Xander called, waiting until he was alone with a napping Devon on Oz's bed to get up. "Wow." He headed for his pictures, pulling them out to look them over. "I've never seen myself like that."

"Shh!" Devon yelled.

"Sorry, sleep," Xander called back. "Your picture's on the table," he called as he headed for his easel with a few other ones. He picked up a fresh canvas, putting it on the easel and picking up a brush. He looked at the picture of Oz stretched out on the floor, giving it a small smile as he dipped his brush in the first color to start the new painting.